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Maryland baseball squeaks out a 4-3 victory over Northwestern

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The Terps fell behind early, but scored three unanswered runs in the final two innings.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After trailing for the first seven innings, the Terps worked themselves into a situation to come away with a win in the bottom of the eighth.

Third baseman Matt Shaw and left fielder Tucker Flint both reached base to start the inning. With one out, shortstop Benjamin Cowles flew a ball into right field, just deep enough to score Shaw, and gave Maryland its first advantage of the afternoon. The Terps, who had struggled to convert in scoring situations last weekend, did their job at the plate in Friday’s series opener.

“The Terps are hot,” Junior first baseman Maxwell Costes said. “We’ve had some really tough losses this year where some balls just didn’t bounce our way... we’re just being patient, waiting for things to start to go our way.”

Behind gusty at-bats and a lights-out bullpen performance, Maryland baseball took home a victory in game one of this four-game weekend, 4-3, and improved to 7-9 on the year.

With talented right-hander Sean Burke on the mound, the Terps seemed to ready to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the conference.

However, a familiar scene played out in the first inning of Friday’s series opener for Burke. The redshirt sophomore struggled with his command early, walking three Wildcats after conceding a leadoff single to first baseman Anthony Carlaco to provide a 2-0 lead for Northwestern.

Once again, Burke struggled to throw strikes in the first inning, giving Maryland's opponent the first lead of the game for the fourth time in five of his starts so far. A Shawn Goosenberg home run to dead center field would add another run, padding the Wildcats’ lead in the second inning and putting the Terps behind 3-0.

“The difference early in the game was freebies. We had a lot in the early innings and they were able to string some stuff together,” head coach Rob Vaughn said.

Northwestern starter Mike Doherty pitched to the opposite tune of Burke, allowing just one baserunner over his first three innings of work. He kept the Terps off balance and trusted his defense, unafraid of Maryland’s ability to put the ball in play and keeping the team scoreless until the middle innings.

It took until the fourth inning for the Terps to get on the board behind an RBI single from first baseman Maxwell Costes. But with Costes on second and no outs, Maryland couldn’t push another run across and Doherty kept the deficit at 3-1.

Burke was faced with another jam in the top of the fifth. With two outs, catcher Michael Trautwein singled and designated hitter David Dunn walked, putting two runners on for the bottom of the Wildcat order.

Trautwein advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Burke tallied his eighth strikeout of the day against second baseman Vincent Bianchina to end the threat and get the Maryland offense back on the field.

“That was not a fun day to play baseball out there today, and I know we’ve had some cold days,” Vaughn said. “Burkey competed for us and still gave us five... even with sporadic command and not his best stuff.”

Right-hander Sean Heine replaced Burke after his five-inning, two-earned-run performance to try to keep the Wildcats at bay. He worked a scoreless sixth and seventh, working out of trouble in the sixth and stranding a runner at third thanks to a groundout from Goosenberg.

With Maryland’s staff continuing to hold Northwestern down, Maryland’s offense just couldn’t muster any momentum against Doherty. The Wildcat ace was surgical, refusing to concede hard contact through holes in the defense and giving the Maryland lineup fits at the plate.

Through six innings, Doherty allowed just four hits, two of which were courtesy of Costes, and one earned run, walking one batter on 71 pitches.

“[Doherty] did a really nice job. He doesn’t have the stuff some of the guys in our league have from a velocity standpoint, but he can really sink the baseball,” Vaughn said.

Entering the bottom of the seventh with momentum from a Justin Vought caught stealing in the previous frame, the terps had a chance to chip away at the Northwestern lead.

Shortstop Benjamin Cowles led the inning off with a single to left, and designated hitter Bobby Zmarzlak reached on an error by Bianchina at second. Vought, now at the plate, pulled back a bunt attempt on the first offering from Doherty and Trautwein smartly threw behind Cowles as second, catching the senior off guard and recording the first out of the inning.

It would take a little bit of luck for the Terps to finally break through against Doherty. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, centerfielder Chris Alleyne lofted a fly ball into left field that was misplayed by Stephen Hrustich, allowing Zmarzlak and Vought to score and even the score at three apiece.

Heine was pulled in the eighth after giving up consecutive two-out singles and was replaced by right-hander David Falco. Falco walked Carlaco to load the bases for the reigning Big Ten player of the week Goosenberg, but the Northwestern shortstop harmlessly bounced out to Shaw at third to end the threat.

“I was just trying to keep the game close, with our offense I was just trying to keep those guys in range,” Heine said. “Just keep putting up zeroes and let our offensive guys do the work.”

With Doherty out of the game, Maryland finally broke through against righty Reed Smith. The Terps put a runner on with one out in the bottom of the eighth on Matt Shaw's walk. Tucker Flint, who pinch-hit for left fielder Logan Ott earlier in the game, ground a hard single into the right put Terps on first and third.

Cowles followed with a fly ball to right, driving in Shaw and giving Maryland its first lead of the afternoon.

“I wanted to force the issue there,” Vaughn said. “It’s a day where you’re not going to run the ball out of the yard... you have to force the other guys to make plays.”

The one-run advantage would be all closer Sam Bello needed to secure the win, retiring the side in order in the ninth and sealing a series-opening victory.

Three things to know

1. Sean Burke was solid, and the bullpen was even better in Friday’s win. Make no mistake, Sean Burke has yet to pitch his best this season. But the redshirt sophomore righty and Maryland ace was much closer to the version of Burke that was expected to be on the field this year, tossing five innings and giving up two earned runs with eight strikeouts against the most prolific scoring threat in the league. Burke is steadily improving game by game and should be back to dominating Big Ten lineups soon.

“[Burke] did a great job of settling down, he kept us in a tight ballgame,” Heine said. “He kept us in the game.”

Maryland’s bullpen was even better than Burke was in his last three innings, as Northwestern failed to score after the second. Heine and Falco both found themselves in jams at times but were able to work out of them to continue to give the Terps chances to win.

“The story of the game was [Sean] Heine and [David] Falco, very honestly,” Vaughn said. “Sean came in and did a really really nice job, and then Falco comes in with their best hitter up and executes a fastball in to get a ground ball. That’s a huge pitch in a tight spot.”

2. Maryland’s lineup took advantage of their opportunities late. The Terps were simply silenced by Doherty through the first six innings of play but were able to convert on extra chances after Northwestern committed a costly error in the outfield. Driving runners in with two outs has been a bit of a struggle for Maryland to this point, but Alleyne’s bloop to left that fell in and Cowles’ sac fly in the eighth were all that was needed behind a very good bullpen performance.

3. Maxwell Costes is starting to get in a rhythm. Costes returned to the everyday lineup last weekend after sitting out with a wrist injury. While his numbers from the Columbus pod weren’t dazzling, he was certainly making hard contact and putting the ball in play with authority. In this weekend’s opener against Northwestern, Costes finally started to drop hits in, going 2-4 with an RBI against a Wildcat staff that had quieted Maryland’s bats for the majority of the game.

“Baseball’s a funny game. You go a weekend hitless and then come out and have an RBI in your first at bat this weekend,” Costes said. “You’re going to get those bad weekends sometimes. It’s all about keeping your mind process-based. As long as I know my process is right, there’s not much else I can do.”